Nicholas Johnson Remarks

John P. Craven Memorial Service
Central Union Church, Honolulu
April 9, 2015

For the past 70 or 80 years I've asked myself from time to time: Among all the very remarkable people it has been my good fortune to know, who are the two or three I would characterize as "the best and the brightest"?

The silver and bronze winners changed from time to time during those years. But in first place, bringing home the gold medal, was always John Craven.

Like most kids, my first friends who were grownups were my parents' friends. For me, that meant Dorothy, who was studying and working with my father at the beginning of her notable career as a speech pathologist. Also at the University of Iowa was John, earning his Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering. Both were thoughtful and kind to me - the first thing a kid notices about adults.

During the 1960s we were all in the Washington, D.C., area, and reestablished our relationship. My daughter, Julie, who's here today, recalls evenings in Dorothy and John's Maryland home, sitting on the floor, singing Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary songs.

Lyndon Johnson appointed me U.S. Maritime Administrator in 1964 - notwithstanding my total lack of experience with either shipping or the administration of large institutions. Naturally, I turned to John, then chief scientist for the Polaris submarine and missile project. His was the office that developed the project management tool PERT - "Planning Evaluation and Review Technique." John showed me the Project's room-length PERT chart that helped them keep thousands of sub-contractors on schedule. I immediately took PERT, and management information reporting systems, across the Potomac River to the Maritime Administration.

John also explained to me, among hundreds of other insights, the role of the media in general, and propaganda-laden comic strips in particular, in public policy formation. That's what got me started with seven tempestuous years as an FCC commissioner.

In addition to TV programs, with demand for frequencies exceeding supply, the Commission was struggling with frequency allocation. I asked John if he could help. He kindly offered to do so, explaining that his project had successfully resolved far more complex challenges. However, once in the hearing room with the commissioners, he realized what he was up against.

As John put it to them, "You don't have enough money to talk to us" - meaning that the FCC didn't have the staff expertise to understand the Navy's solutions.

John explained that the Polaris project had many components - missile, submarine hull, propulsion, and so forth. One component was communication - keeping contact with the missiles, and the Pentagon, while deep in the ocean. He said the first step for that component was what he called "benefit-cost essays."

"What's that?" I asked. "That's sitting with your feet on the windowsill, slowly twisting a piece of string, while thinking about the problem," he said. "No designing; no construction; just thinking. Our budget for benefit-cost essays, for the communications system, for one weapon," he continued, "is one hundred million dollars - five times the FCC's entire budget for inspecting and regulating broadcasting, the telephone monopoly, and every other American communications system."

John had provided me a whole new perspective on defense spending.

In 1970 Dorothy and John came to Hawaii. Although both of them were, individually, invited back by the University of Iowa for awards and recognition, for the most part our contact was here, in Hawaii. Sometimes a special trip to see them; sometimes a stopover when flying to Japan.

John gave me my first and best snorkeling instruction, just down the road from here. Both attempted to introduce me to their love of opera - wisely choosing "Ariadne auf Naxos" for its insight into Hollywood censorship.

And then, of course, there was the time a friend and I found ourselves on the top of an Oahu mountain that, while difficult to climb up, was impossible to climb down. When we didn't show for an 8:00 dinner with Dorothy and John, John kindly requested a helicopter from the Honolulu fire department. Although it never spotted the fire we set to attract its attention that night, by the next morning we were swinging under it in baskets and ultimately successfully rescued.

John's knowledge, curiosity, and creativity spanned not only the range of the sciences and engineering, but the full breadth of the humanities and arts as well. He was always professionally productive, while spouting a range of creative ideas -- expressing them in ways I could understand, even as a child. His energy, especially in greetings, was so effusive that my wife, Mary, who's also here today, made him the basis for a character she wrote into a play. He had a wonderful sense of fun, and always exhibited a kindly and humane regard for others.

My blog, and the Honolulu Star Advertiser, were among the first to write about John this year. But as the word spread, Sarah and I were impressed with the extent to which the world was taking notice -- The Washington Post, the New York Times. I took a little credit for The Economist magazine's obit, only to be trumped when Sarah reported one in The Times of London.

How lucky we have all been to have had this remarkable world treasure as a part of our lives.

I will miss him, as I know you will, too.